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February 28, 2021 Sermon

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Psalm 73

  Does the Bible contradict itself? No! Is God always true to his word? Yes! That’s what you and I, and the Psalmist have been taught and confessed. We have confessed what we call the conclusion to the commandments. The Lord our God is a jealous God punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. So the Psalmist says, Surely God is good to Israel, to the pure in heart. Surely God is true to his word. Surely the Bible does not contradict itself.

   But like us, the Psalmist was struggling with something. What he was seeing, what he was experiencing in life, didn’t seem to line up with what he said he believed and confessed. In fact, what he was seeing and experiencing seemed to be just the opposite of what he expected based on what God said in his word.

  What was causing him to struggle? When he considered the lives of unbelievers, the arrogant who acted like they could mock God with impunity and the wicked who seemed not only to get away with their wickedness but to prosper, he began to question the truth of God’s word. He was tempted to give up on God.

  What did he see? He saw people who wore pride as a necklace and violence like clothing. He saw those in power threatening those under them, do my bidding or else. He saw people bragging about their evil deeds. He heard people openly mocking God saying, how can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?

  Peter saw the same thing in his day. He talked about people who would mock God and his word saying, Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.

  We see it today. People mock and say that religion is the opiate of the people, it’s just a crutch for the weak. They say, “I’m living a lifestyle that your Bible says is wrong but look at me. I’m doing just fine. I’m happy and healthy and wealthy. If what you say is true, shouldn’t God have struck my down by now?”

  We keep hearing about all the evil and corruption that exists among some of the most powerful people in the world, but nothing seems to happen to them. There are no arrests. There is no prosecution. They just seem to be able to get away with doing whatever they want. We are tempted to join the Psalmist in saying, this is what the wicked are like—secure forever, they increase in strength. They don’t seem to have any struggles. The do not seem to have the trouble common to people.

  As a result of what he observed, the Psalmist was tempted to say “what’s the use? What good is trying to serve God? Have I really kept my heart pure for nothing? Have I kept my hands clean in vain? “If the wicked and those who openly mock God are happy, healthy, and wealthy, and I’m not, maybe I should give up on God. If serving God only brings me trouble, maybe I should forget about his commandments and join the wicked in gratifying the desires of my sinful nature.” But then he caught himself. He realized his thoughts were sinful. He realized that he was looking at things the wrong way. But what was the right way? What was the answer to his question? Why did it seem that the wicked were prospering and those who struggled to serve God were suffering? How could what he observed possibly fit with God’s promise to punish the wicked and show love to those who keep his commands?

  When I tried to understand this, it was very troubling to me, until I went to the sanctuary of God. Then I understood their end.

  What helps us with our struggle to understand why life doesn’t seem to be fair? What helps us with our struggle to understand why some people seem to be able to shake their fist at God and sin with impunity but if we sin we experience dire consequences? Entering the sanctuary of God.

  Yes, that means gathering with our fellow believers, not just to sit for an hour and hear God’s word, but to gather in a way that we can build relationships so that we can encourage one another and help each other in whatever struggle we might we facing in life. Entering the sanctuary of God also means having a conversation with God about our struggles. That means studying his word. It means getting out a concordance or topical Bible and looking at everything God says about a topic that might be troubling us. It means going to God in prayer and saying, “I really don’t get this Lord. It doesn’t look like you are being true to your word. Help me understand this?”

  What did the psalmist learn when the went to the sanctuary of God? He learned to stop focusing only on the outward things. Outwardly the wicked seemed to prosper. They seemed to have a charmed life. Everything seemed to be going their way. But was it really? Were they really able to completely silence their conscience that bears witness to the law God has written in their hearts? Isn’t the fact that they can’t silence their conscience the reason they get so angry at anyone who suggests that they are living a sinful lifestyle, or even at those who strive to live a godly life for themselves? Isn’t that why they seem to be so insistent that others join them, or at least support them in their sinful lifestyle? If everyone is doing it, if everyone says it’s Okay, then how could God judge it wrong?

  When the Psalmist went to the sanctuary of God he was reminded of the truth. This life isn’t all there is. The things of this life, health, riches, power, don’t last. God will indeed have the last word, if not in this life, in the resurrection.

  When someone sets their hearts against God and his word, he may let them have their own way for a while and allow them to fall from a great height. Think of Pharaoh and how his stubbornness led to the destruction of all of Egypt’s crops, their cattle, their first born, and then their army. The Psalmist says, surely you place them on slippery places. You cause them to fall into destruction.  How quickly they come to ruin, completely destroyed by terrors!

  But even if there seems to be no justice for the wicked in this life, when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them like an illusion. When they stand before God’s judgment seat all their pride, all their power, all their riches will be an illusion, they will all be gone. They will stand before God with every sin they have committed exposed. Their end, their judgment will be terrifying. They will be sent away from the presence of God and everything good into the outer darkness where there is only weeping and gnashing of teeth. They will look up, like the rich man in torment in hell, and see those they mocked enjoying the riches and glory of heaven. They will beg for even just a drop of water to cool their tongues, but none will be given them.

  When you struggle with the prosperity of the wicked and the troubles of those who strive to serve God remember what the Psalmist learned when he entered the sanctuary of God. Remember not to judge things by the outward appearance. Remember that this life is not all there is. Remember that God is a just God and that the punishment of the wicked is much worse than anything that could happen to them in this life. But most importantly, remember that you too have sinned and that if God were to mete out his justice according to what you have done, you would join the wicked in eternal punishment. Remember that no matter how hard you have tried to keep your heart pure and your hands clean, you are not 100% pure or 100% clean as God’s justice demands. Remember that the only way you will be able to stand before God in the judgment is Jesus. Only in Jesus will you not be filled with terror. Only in Jesus will all your sins be covered. Only in Jesus will the father be able to invite you to join him in the glory of heaven.

  Because of Jesus’ perfect life in our place, because of his innocent death that paid for our sins, because of his glorious resurrection from the dead, we understand our end. Only because of Jesus are we able to join the Psalmist in saying, Lord, I am always with you. You hold me by my right hand. With your guidance you lead me, and afterward, you will take me to glory. Who else is there for me in heaven? And besides you, I desire no one else on earth. My flesh and my heart fail. But God is the rock of my heart and my portion forever.

  Because of this, instead of being envious of the wicked if it seems we are suffering and they aren’t, we have peace with God. We can take up our cross and follow Jesus even if it means suffering in this life. God is always true to his word. He sent Jesus and we have been justified by faith. So, as Jacob and Paul learned, suffering in this life produces patient endurance, and patient endurance produces tested character, and tested character produces hope, the sure and certain hope of eternal glory that surpasses anything we could have on earth because God shows his own love for us in this: not by keeping earthly suffering away from us, not by blessing us and punishing the wicked in this life, but God shows his own love for us in this: While WE were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  It doesn’t seem fair that the wicked prosper while believers suffer. But God is true to his word. He is perfectly just. All sins are punished. And he is perfectly gracious. Jesus was punished for all sins. Those who cling to Jesus have peace with God now and forever. Those who reject Jesus live under God’s judgment now and forever.

  When life doesn’t seem fair, do what the Psalmist did. Enter the sanctuary of God and remember the end. Remember what really matters is not this life but having eternal life. Remember that eternal life is yours, not because God is fair, but because of his love and grace in Jesus.